• Latin American Sale auction at Christies

    Sale 2563

    Latin American Sale

    22 - 23 May 2012, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 64

    Candido Portinari (Brazilian 1903-1962)

    Navio negreiro

    Price Realised  


    Candido Portinari (Brazilian 1903-1962)
    Navio negreiro
    signed, inscribed and dated 'PORTINARI, PARIS 1950' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    28 7/8 x 23 5/8 in. (73.3 x 60 cm.)
    Painted in Paris in 1950.

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    "I paint to teach my people what is wrong," Portinari once remarked, and his body of work speaks powerfully to the social upheaval and injustice that he witnessed in his native Brazil.[1] Recognized as one of his country's foremost modern artists, he plied his painting as a form of protest and critique, portraying the working and immigrant classes that he knew firsthand from a childhood spent among the coffee plantations of São Paulo. The son of poor Italian immigrants, Portinari left home at the age of fifteen to study at the National School of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, and in 1928 he was awarded a scholarship to study in Europe. His return to Brazil in 1931 coincided with sweeping nationalist sentiment that would span two decades, and his iconic paintings and murals from these years embody the racial and social politics that helped to redefine, and diversify, the country's national identity.

    The 1930s and '40s marked a defining moment of nationalism in the arts, and Portinari aligned his practice with that of a group of like-minded intellectuals, including the critic Mário de Andrade and the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, who "[strived] to give their work an essential national expression--in subject, in spirit, and in style."[2] There was new political acknowledgment of Brazil's indigenous and African roots during the Getúlio Vargas regime, and Portinari's brand of social realism effectively portrayed these marginalized classes in an integral historical and national light. Such characteristic early paintings of Afro-Brazilian life as The Mestizo (1934) and Coffee (1935) gave way in the 1940s to more universal and transnational subjects, as seen in his important murals for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (Discovery of the New World, 1942) and the United Nations in New York (War and Peace, 1956).

    Portinari's contemporary oil paintings kindle the intense human emotion of his murals on a more intimate scale, and the present work depicts a foundational episode in the history of Brazil. Navio negreiro traces the African presence to the colonial-era slave trade, recalling the forcible origins of the modern Afro-Brazilian community in a dramatic image of slaves bound for Brazil's fazendas. Indeed, Portinari may have found a valuable point of reference in a number of widely circulated eighteenth-century woodcuts that illustrate the conditions of the Middle Passage through similarly graphic and expressive forms. Like Tiradentes (1949), Descobrimento do Brasil (1954), and the "Retirantes" series, which spanned the 1940s and '50s, Navio negreiro participates in a broader national project that sought to shed light on Brazil's history from the first moment of contact and colonization through the present day. Here, densely clustered masses of slaves fill the brightly sunlit deck, their anonymous forms overshadowed by the immensity of the ship and the sails, which compress the space of the painting and amplify the exploitation and injustice of the scene. An homage to Brazil's African roots and, at the same time, an indictment of the conditions of the slave trade, Navio negreiro is a powerful national acknowledgment of Brazil's past and, no less, a testament to the diversity of its present.

    Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
    1) Candido Portinari, quoted in Sarah Lemmon, "Candido Portinari: The Protest Period," Latin American Art 3, no. 1 (Winter 1991): 32. 2) Rockwell Kent, Portinari: His Life and Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), 4.


    Acquired directly from the artist (circa 1950).
    By descent to the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text



    Exhibition catalogue, Portinari, São Paulo, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, 1954, p. 53 (illustrated).
    Exhibition catalogue, Candido Portinari, New York, Wildenstein Galleries, 1959, p. 11.
    Exhibition catalogue, Cem Obras Primas de Portinari, São Paulo, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, 1970, p. 43 (illustrated).
    L. Martins, et al, Candido Portinari, Brunner, São Paulo, 1972, p. 89 (illustrated in color).
    C. Cavalcanti, Dicionário brasileiro de artistas plásticos, Brasília, 1973, Vol. 3, p. 428.
    G. De Lamare, 'Colecionadores brasileiros: o Embaixador Jayme de Barros' in Vida das Artes, Rio de Janeiro, May 1975 (illustrated in color).
    C. do Prado Valladares, 'Análise iconográfica da pintura monumental de Portinari nos Estados Unidos' in Cultura, Brasilía, January/March 1976.
    Enciclopédia Mirador Internacional, São Paulo, Enciclopédia Britanica Brasil, 1980, v. 17, p. 9160.
    A. Bento, Portinari, Léo Christiano, Rio de Janeiro, 1980, p. 125 (illustrated in color).
    A. Bento, Portinari, Léo Christiano, Rio de Janeiro, 198-, p. 77 (illustrated in color).
    M. Barata, 'Portinari e o modernismo brasileiro' in O Estado de S. Paulo, São Paulo, 7 February 1987.
    A. Callado, 'Portinari: retrato de Portinari' in Informação Pedagógica, Arte em Revista, Rio de Janeiro, 1992.
    A. Bento, Portinari, Léo Christiano, 2nd ed., Rio de Janeiro, 2003, p. 129 (ilustrated in color).
    Candido Portinari: o lavrador de quadros, Projeto Portinari, João Candido Portinari, Rio de Janeiro, 2003, p. 176 (illustrated in color).
    H. de Aquino Azevedo, Candido Portinari: filho do Brasil, orgulho de Brodowski!, Jundaí, Árvore do Saber, São Paulo, 2003, p. 31 (illustrated in color, and also on the cover).
    Projeto Portinari, Candido Portinari: Catalogue Raisonné Volume III 1944 [2]>1955 [1], Rio de Janeiro, 2004, p. 293, no. 2862 (illustrated in color).


    New York, Wildenstein Galleries, Candido Portinari, 16 April- 16 May 1959, no. 41.
    São Paulo, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, Cem Obras Primas de Portinari, 25 November- December 1970.